04/02/2012 07:43 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

I'll Make a Man Out of You

Culturally, socially, and physically, we assign humans a gender based on appearance. Popular culture has very rigid definitions of "male" and "female" and imposes them on today's youth at any cost -- Seventeen, Teen Beat, the list goes on. Girls, make the cute boy in homeroom notice you with this new pair of jeans, or this new brand of makeup! Boys, get her attention with this fancy car, or this watch, or this gadget. However, transgender and gender-nonconforming youth are largely ignored in mainstream media.

Where is the message for these young people? It's nearly nonexistent. There is, quite literally, next to no mention of gender-variant youth in popular culture, nothing for them in magazines, books, TV (OK, maybe TV -- but then one would have to consider whether said gender-variant youth are portrayed as mentally stable, non-stereotypical, etc.). Adults and peers often ignore these youth or make them feel inadequate or damaged. If a child who is a girl but was born in a male body attends school as a girl, often there is an outcry. Why? Because of underlying transphobia, homophobia, etc. The mere fact that a little girl (yes, she is a girl, despite her physical sex) wants to be able to use the restroom in peace without her entire school knowing she has a "special situation" means nothing. It does not mean this child is going to endanger other children.

Why does society see transgender and gender-variant individuals as somehow "bad," "sick," or "wrong"? Do we need to go back to the phobia of the unknown? This is the same phobia that says, "Oh, no, a trans woman said hello to me! She's going to teach my 16-year-old son to do body shots off another boy in a leopard-print bikini if I dare let her speak to my son's class about her journey!" Or the phobia that says, "That's not a man; that's a woman. What could she possibly have to teach my daughter besides how wrong she is for mutilating her breasts with surgery?" I have seen this reaction to so many of my transgender brothers. It hurts.

Yes, things are getting better. Schools are more open, and some even have policies in place to protect trans kids. However, some don't. Are we going to let these schools and these kids slip through the cracks because their demographic and geographic locations will never change? Are we going to lack the courage to march into the Bible Belt or the third-world countries and yell, "Bring me your sons* whom you force to wear suits when they would rather wear dresses! Bring me your daughters* who hide in shame because they cannot escape their own bodies and the overly sexual portrayal, in media and everyday life, of a body part they quite possibly never wanted in the first place! Bring me your children who desperately wish for you to see them as they see themselves!"? No. We won't be cowards. We will march on and take the fight to the backroads and the pavements alike. Why? Because these children need to know there is hope. They need to know that there are others out there like them, championing and supporting them. That they are not sick, nor damaged, nor broken.

They need to know that it's OK to feel this way, that it's normal and safe.

We need to become a caring and informed populace with the tools to enable today's youth to safely transition; turn miserable young sons into confident and beautiful daughters who make their parents proud; and turn miserable daughters into strong and efficient sons who will grow up and accomplish their dreams.

Transgender, gender-nonconforming, and gender-variant kids need to know there are others like them. In the media they should be portrayed normally, just like everyone else. At home they need to be accepted and loved, not forced into roles they can't fit. In schools they need to be treated with respect and dignity.

I challenge you to spread the word. Silence is deadly. I will not be silent any longer.

*Or one's identity of choice: substitute your preferred word here.